When I think of Las Vegas, I think of excess everything ... excess extravagance, entertainment, gambling, shopping, and of course ... FOOD. I mean, it's called Sin City for a reason. In Vegas, practically every hotel has a buffet, each trying to one-up the others.
So I was slightly apprehensive when my family decided that we would go to Las Vegas for the holidays. Me, a new vegan, in Vegas. I Googled "Vegan food in Vegas" and came up with a few resources: The Vegas Vegan, Vegas Veg and Vegas.com's Top 10 Vegetarian [and vegan] Restaurants. (I actually found even more vegan options just writing this blog than I did before I went to Vegas. At least now I know where to dine next time I go there.)
Best Vegan Pizza in Vegas
On the first night there, my boyfriend and I decided to take our chances on 800 Degrees Neopolitan Pizzeria at Monte Carlo, since it was right across from Polo Towers where we were staying. What's cool about this restaurant is that everything is customizable and made-to-order. When I asked them if they could make a vegan pizza, and they said yes, I felt like I had won the jackpot. Seriously. Forget gambling, although we did lose $80 on slots that night. And when they asked if I wanted vegan cheese, I felt like I was on a winning streak; I assumed they didn't have that option and was just going to order pizza without cheese.
My boyfriend and I split with the Zucca pizza, one of their specialty pies with butternut squash, caramelized onions and rosemary oil. It originally comes with bacon but we substituted it with sweet corn and green peppers. We didn't realize how light it would be, not knowing that neopolitan pizza has a super thin yet chewy crust. Each pie is only about 12 inches, so if you go there, get your own pizza.
It was so good we ended up going there again the next day for lunch with my sister and brother-in-law. My boyfriend and I each ordered a vegan Margherita pizza but I topped mine with olives, mushrooms and green peppers. YUMMMM!!! They use Daiya mozzarella (vegan cheese), which melts heavenly, just like regular cheese.
We also ordered their broccolini side dish, but they forgot we were vegan and topped it with cheese so I didn't get to eat it. They offered to give us a new one but we didn't want to waste food. I was told it was delicious. It's cooked with wood-roasted garlic, Calabrian chiles and olive oil. They also have salads that could be easily altered to be vegan-friendly.
Being Vegan at Buffets
Before I share my buffet experience, it's important to note that if you're vegan, it's best to stay away from buffets. You just won't get your money's worth. However, because I was with my family and it's our tradition to dine at a buffet at least once on our Vegas trips, I didn't really have a choice.
Feast Buffet at Green Valley Ranch Casino
On our second night, we met up with my uncle and cousins who live in Henderson, just 15 miles southeast of Las Vegas. They treated us to dinner at Feast Buffet, which is in Green Valley Ranch Casino, the locals' favorite. It was also voted as "Best Brunch Buffet" by readers of Las Vegas Review Journal. I was pleasantly surprised by the amount of options available. I thought I would be limited to just salad and fruit but I didn't even make it to the salad bar.
I believe they have six food stations to choose from, but I pretty much stuck with the Asian food ("Dynasty Grill"), which includes a Mongolian grill. I put together a big bowl of water chestnuts, baby corn, snow peas, broccoli, carrots, bean sprouts, fresh ginger and garlic, which they stir-fry in front of you. I didn't realize until after they used soy sauce on mine that there were about 7-10 sauce options. If you get it with soy sauce, make sure to tell them to go easy on it because my veggies came out a little too salty.
I also got a big serving of stir-fried bok choy. It's kind of sad that I didn't even go up for seconds. But I guess it's also a good thing that I got full off of that meal. I picked some watermelon, cantaloupe and pineapple off my boyfriend's plate for dessert. I thought the fruit was perfectly ripe and sweet, too. Surprisingly, I didn't feel like I missed out on the dessert spread. Maybe my palate is changing and I'm actually OK with just fruits for dessert.
Bacchanal Buffet at Caesars Palace
On our last night in Vegas, we ate at what was once my favorite buffet: Bacchanal Buffet at Caesars Palace. It was named Best Buffet in 2013 by USA Today. I knew from eating there before as a vegetarian that I would be even more limited on options as a vegan. And wow, was I right.
It was a bit of a roller coaster of emotions. I was skeptical that they'd have good vegan options. But then I asked the hostess about it and she said to just tell them that I'm vegan, and someone would give me a tour of the vegan options. So that led me to believe that they actually did have a substantial vegan selection.
When it came time for the tour, I quickly realized that was not the case. First, I had to keep repeating to the person giving me a tour that I couldn't have anything with dairy or eggs because she kept pointing at things with cheese. When we got to the fried food section, and I spotted french fries, I thought, well there's at least one thing I can have. That bubble burst pretty quickly when I was told everything was cooked in butter, even the fries and carrots. The person behind the counter looked like she felt bad for me so she offered to cook the carrots in just oil.
Every station I walked through felt like one rejection after another. I finally came upon the Japanese food section, and was relieved to see the vegetable rolls, edamame sesame seed salad and seaweed salad. On the way back to my table, I spotted salad with vinaigrette dressing so I scooped up some of that and grabbed a guava juice as well. There was also one station that had a slice of tomato with olive oil, cracked black pepper, salt, sugar and a white chocolate horseradish sauce. I asked the women behind the counter if they could prepare one without the sauce and they obliged, begrudgingly.
I also took a gamble on the taro bao (steamed bun filled with taro paste). To my knowledge, it should be vegan. I was determined to eat whatever I could to make the $60+ my dad spent on my meal worth it. Once I ate that, I was officially full and felt less like I had wasted my dad's money. I guess the carbs from the bun really made a difference.
Since I was sitting right next to the dessert section, I had to do one lap around it. I was shocked and annoyed that even their sorbet had milk. Really, milk in sorbet?! Why not label it "sherbet" instead of "sorbet" then?! So I ended up having some strawberries and pineapple for dessert.
I'm sad to say that that will be the last time I'll eat at Bacchanal Buffet.
Wynn Las Vegas, the Culinary Haven for Vegans
After researching vegan restaurants in Vegas, I soon found out that Steve Wynn, owner of Wynn Las Vegas, is vegan himself. Thanks to him, there has been a shift toward high-end vegan-friendly restaurants on the Strip. That means every restaurant at Wynn and Encore caters to vegans. Do I hear angels singing and trumpets sounding? If I weren't with my family on this trip, I would've dined at every restaurant there.
Instead, I chose Allegro since it happened to be open while we were there. (The other two I checked out were closed: Tableau was only open for brunch and Lakeside didn't open until 5:30 PM.) They served an assortment of breads with a white bean garlic parmesan dip, which I accidentally took a bite of because all I heard was "white bean and garlic". So my boyfriend and I just ate the ciabatta bread (since it was the only vegan option) with balsamic vinegar and olive oil. For appetizers, we split with the vegan bruschetta, which had some kind of olive tapenade spread, arugula, tomatoes and vegan ricotta. Delish! I'm going to try making it one of these days.
For our main course, we split with the vegan pizza and Gardein™ Chick'N parmigiano with linguine. The vegan pizza featured vegan ricotta, paprika almond slivers, kale and tomato sauce. It didn't have enough of a flavor kick like the pizza from 800 Degrees Neopolitan Pizzeria. I guess our expectations were too high because of it.
Overall, I was happy with our high-end vegan dining experience at Allegro. I appreciated the fact that they had a menu section for vegans as well as other dietary restrictions. My boyfriend and I agree that the vegan chicken parmigiano with linguine and the bruschetta were our favorites. Oh, and their white sangria is also good--it was white wine mixed with vodka. I'd definitely go back there again after trying all of the other restaurants at Wynn and Encore.
Surviving Vegas as a Vegan
In the City of Sin--and excess--it's a relief to know that there are actually establishments that cater to people with dietary restrictions. All is not lost when you're a vegan in Vegas.